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Trilingual? How was learning your third language different than learning your second?

I learned Spanish with Rosetta Stone in middle school and am now brushing up with Duolingo. I learn German with a combination LiveMocha, Memrise, and Youtube and am brushing up on that also.

I am starting to learn Italian and feel like I pick it up much faster than I would if it was my first second language.

How was picking up your third or fourth language? DId you pick it up much faster than your second? Was it harder or easier?

May 1, 2013



I've spent huge amounts of time studying Spanish, Chinese, and Somali, plus one semester each of German and Latin (long ago), some dabbling in Arabic, and French (most recently) on duolingo. I'm a native (midwestern US) English speaker.

My three main learned languages have absolutely nothing to do with one another, but they still helped me understand each other language. There are things you can express in Chinese that you simply can't in English... and it turns out that's true in Spanish and Somali as well. Conjugation in Spanish helped me understand the patterns or mathematical aspects of constructing a sentence, and also gender, which are useful in Somali. (Obviously Spanish also helps with French—and I'm even finding some commonalities between French and German.) Latin actually helps with Somali (even though I don't remember any Latin) because I remember that subclauses and the like are a big deal.

I've been keeping up Spanish fairly easily by reading books in Spanish by Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende (and also JK Rowling in translation!). By contrast, Somali, despite having a rich literary tradition, has only been a written language for thirty or forty years, and due also to the ravaged infrastructure in Somalia, there is little available to read. Reading in Chinese is very onerous. It would probably be fine if I really solidly knew the top 500 characters... but I don't. It takes a lot of time and effort to look up characters by radical or stroke number.

My main issue is prioritizing and persevering. I'm currently working on maintaining my Spanish, solidifying the French I've learned here, and resurrecting my German—mostly because I find Duolingo extremely accessible, convenient, and quite fun, and these three languages are available here. But if I had my druthers I would be focused on maintaining Spanish, reviving my Chinese, recovering my Somali, and learning Arabic. There's just not enough time to do everything.


There are two things:

  • First, that's true that other languages are doing faster, because you get used to learn and because some rules are similar in many languages.

  • Second, if you are learning italian now, I confirm you that it is a really easy language compared to other ones, and learning Italian is easier after having learned spanish because they are really close!


Generally, any language is easier to learn when it is third rather than second or second rather than first foreign language.

However, the experience with every certain language depends on its closeness to the languages you already know. I learn German now as a third foreign language and it feels harder than French which is my second. If I chose Italian as my third language, I'm almost sure it would feel easier than French because it has much in common with it and I could build my Italian on my French.

The biggest difference I feel is between the first and the next foreign languages. After learning English to a decent level, any Romance or Germanic language seems a game.


I am studying Spanish now and moving along, using Duolingo and other references. I studied Italian but never could speak it. I studied French in High School but forgot all that I learned. I found the Italian grammar much harder than Spanish.

After Spanish I will move back to French. I have heard that French is the easiest to learn romance language for native English speakers (I don't have any reverences). I don't know why because I struggled with the French pronunciation in High School.

I found Italian easier to pronounce than Spanish but harder on grammar ( I have heard Italian is the closest to Latin, but I don't have references). Your English is fantastic. Thanks for your inputs to the discussions.


Thanks :-) My English has significantly improved with practice of posting on the forum here and on some other sites.


...I think the only people that don´t struggle with French pronunciation, are the FRENCH. haha


i am actually learning my forth language through second. I´m estonian, i learned spanish in high school but because i had no practice i soon forgot most of it. But now i find it so much easier because learning it through english makes more sense, the grammar is just much more similar.

I´m guessing that the more languages you know, the easier it gets.


The same for me, I am Russian and learn French and German through English.


For me it actually is much easier. A lot of language learning seems to be through associations (visual and otherwise), and knowing a few languages (fluently) seems to help create those associations (there's usually something fairly similar in one language or the other, which makes it easier to grasp). Not to mention, prononciation becomes way easier as well.

I found that learning the second language was the biggest challenge, for your brain to adopt and accept the fact that there is more than one way to go when expressing yourself. After that realization solidified, it becomes way easier.


Definitely agree. The second is the hard one, after that it´s just makin more space up in the attic for more junk! hahah :P


To be honest, it doesn't become any easier for me.

I learned Spanish and English since a kid, never could be arsed to study English grammar and wasted away many years. In Spanish I encourage my brain to forget anything that could be filed under grammar because I hated it so much (the grammar). I was convinced grammar and learning the language were not related and just a way of living to some. Obviously you cannot go to University without some proper grammar, so I had to learn a lot of it before my final exams. I also had to pick up the English, as I studied abroad some time.

I was in Sweden for a couple of years, and just got to barely understand Swedish (not successful with speaking it though), get a Swedish twang in English and smear all my Spanish grammar, so I had to do a lot of reading in English and Spanish to keep up with proper writing.

I was then immersed in Italian, without any proper training and I am able to make myself understand, but it must sound awful. I speak it when I can, though.

Now I am heavily immersed in German and forgotten the little Swedish I ever picked up and the little Portuguese I ever had ( I think it's a nice language, sounds nice).

So, now, the German is destroying my English writing and some expressions, I try to force myself to look at the grammar. I have put aside DL to some extent. All the repeating and so is not helping because I use it everyday, so mincing about with some sentences and hearts doesn't help me. I have to confess grammar foundations are needed for me.

So, it doesn't feel any easier mate, any at all. The only thing, but perhaps the most important, is that I don't care, just plough ahead. Speak, use it and eat the frustration... you can always take an aspirin and some sleep after.


Your English doesn't seem destroyed at all, actually.


I want to thank everyone for all your detailed answers. It was really fun to read through them all.


Learning Latin languages are naturally easier if you already know a Latin language. You will also pick up the language faster as by now it's most likely you have learn an easy and efficient way to learn a language. :) yes, I picked up my third language quite quickly. After learning some Spanish, Portuguese was very simple!


I think the ease of learning a language depends more on how closely it is related to languages you already know than to its relative position in your personal learning order. Motivation is also a big factor. You many not have been that interested in your second foreign language at school, but now have a pressing reason to learn your third language.


I am learning my third language and it is easier than learning my second


First language I've learned was English - and I'm still learning it, as a not native-English speaker. Then I started to learn German, I have learnt it maybe 3 or 4 years in school - but in fact, I don't understand anything, I don't remember words, grammar, although I learn it every day.. The third language I'm learning is Italian, I attended Italian classes and now I'm practising it here on Duolingo. Italian is not difficult to learn, I remember words, grammar isn't that difficult. The best thing about Italian is that it has many similar words with English and other languages. Personally, I think it depends on language, easier language is easier to learn, it doesn't depend on how long or how much you learn it (me and German), and it also depends on willingness (because, I'm actually not very interested in German, to be honest).


how do you know when to move on to the next language?


Whenever you want. It can be when you can just barely get by, want to be able to hold up a conversation, or be fluent. Up to you.

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